Woke Up This Morning.

It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came in too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over. – Tony Soprano

In 1999, a show premiered on HBO that would usher in what is now considered the “Golden Age” of television. It was a drama about an organized crime boss in northern New Jersey, his criminal associates, and also, his deeply dysfunctional family. At times an exploration of organized crime at the turn of the 21st century, at times dark comedy, and at times a satire of the American dream, The Sopranos has a legacy that has gone beyond its six televised seasons.

I watched the show when it originally aired from 1999 to 2007, and during the pandemic have begun rewatching the show again. I’ve long been fascinated with the history of organized crime in this country, from the books I have read, to the movies and documentaries I’ve watched, to the stories my dad has told me about the racketeers and “mob guys” who shopped for their tailored suits at my grandfather’s clothing store in Camden, NJ.  The Sopranos captured the essence of the mob – the crime, the violence, and also the sheer mundanity of everyday life – without overly-romanticizing it.

Knowing that I am a huge fan of the show, my wife planned an amazing birthday gift for me: a road trip to several of the show’s filming locations around New Jersey. The better part of my birthday was spent driving to sites in upscale neighborhoods, traffic-filled cities, and quiet, small towns. It was, quite simply, amazing.

After my special birthday adventure, I also am excited to share Part II of a cool feature on an off-road Acura, and finally, some vehicle updates closer to home.

Let’s begin!

The Sopranos Tour

Map of northern New Jersey, with red pins in locations of filming sites.
Our road trip would take us to a total of 8 destinations around northern New Jersey. I had long been talking about trying to do a road trip like this. Inspired by blogger Jason Pawela’s exploration of filming locations for the show Breaking Bad in New Mexico and Tyson Hugie finding the house from the film Napoleon Dynamite in Idaho, I was interested in doing something similar for The Sopranos. I had never progressed past the idea stage… enter my wife, and her prodigious planning abilities.
Six index cards with location information for the trip.
When I opened a birthday card from my wife, out fell these specially created index cards, each with destinations for our road trip. My surprise quickly turned to utter delight as I began reading through the locations we would be visiting.
Sub sandwich bag from TASTEE SANDWICH SHOP.
“Gabagool.” Before leaving, we sat down for a #5 from Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, NJ. The “Super Sub” is made with cheese, ham, salami, proscuttini, and cappacola… and the cappacola is why this sub was specifically chosen by my wife. Each meal we ate was tied to information from the show. Among Italian communities in New York and New Jersey, “cappacola,” an Italian pork cold cut, is often pronounced “gabagool” (as was spoken often on The Sopranos whenever someone was ordering from the deli). I finally learned the reason for this linguistic difference (see also: manicotti pronounced as “man-eh-gott” and mozzarella as “muuts-ta-dell”)! For centuries, regional dialects of spoken Italian were vastly different from one another, as the country was made up of largely independent kingdoms. As the kingdoms united and the nation of Italy formed in the 19th century, a nationwide spoken language was standardized. However, immigrants who arrived in America before the Italian unification brought their dialects with them, dialects that have refused to die out here, despite no longer being spoken in Italy. It’s fascinating stuff, and you can read more in this excellent article on Atlas Obscura.
Index card with The Sopranos logo on it and a #1 written on the card.
Time to start our journey!
View of NJ Turnpike through car windshield.
We began our drive the way any good New Jersey road trip should: on the New Jersey Turnpike. Owing to the fact that we’d be venturing into cities like Elizabeth and Jersey City, where potholes are more like tank traps, we took pity on my Honda Accord’s suspension and drove my wife’s Jeep. It didn’t hurt that Tony Soprano always drove an SUV, either.
Exterior of Centanni's Meat Market.
Our first stop: Centanni’s Meat Market in the city of Elizabeth. The shop appears in the pilot episode, where mob boss Tony Soprano meets with his lieutenants.
Centanni's marquis sign above door.
In reality, Centanni’s is a long-serving butcher shop and deli in a quiet residential neighborhood. While the store doesn’t have its own website, the customer reviews on Yelp! are all excellent. Next time we’re in the area, we’ll need to bring a cooler and do some shopping!
View of Pulaki Skyway.
Our next destination took us to Jersey City via the Pulaski Skyway, identified on maps as US Route 1/9. At 3.5 miles long, this causeway crosses over two rivers, a peninsula, and the swampy Meadowlands. Built in 1932, the structure was only days away from collapsing when the state of New Jersey decided to invest nearly two billion dollars in repairing and rebuilding it (via Wikipedia).
Statue of man holding carpet.
Our next stop: The Muffler Man! Spotted in the title sequence of the show, this roadside statue was originally a Paul Bunyan lumberjack before becoming a mascot for a local carpet shop (via Roadside America).
Exterior of Pizza Land pizzeria.
Our next stop took us to the town of North Arlington to see Pizza Land. This pizzeria, a local institution since 1965, can be viewed in the title sequence of the show.
Exterior of Irvine-Cozzarelli funeral home.
Next on the list: the Irvine-Cozzarelli Memorial Home in the town of Belleville. This was the funeral parlor where Tony’s combative and cantankerous mother Livia was laid to rest in season three (via Vulture).
White Jeep Grand Cherokee parked in front of Satin Dolls club.
Our next destination was to an “adult entertainment” club beside Route 17 in Lodi, New Jersey. Satin Dolls was the real-life filming location of the fictional Bada Bing, the strip club where Tony’s crew would meet to talk business.
Sign that says HOME OF THE ORIGINAL BADA BING CLUB
Satin Dolls certainly doesn’t try to hide its affiliation with the show! Surprisingly, this was one of only a few locations that actively advertised its connection to The Sopranos.
White Jeep Grand Cherokee parked outside St. George's Greek Orthodox Church.
From the worldly to the holy… our next stop was St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in the town of Clifton. It served as the Roman Catholic church where Father Phil, the (sort of) spiritual adviser to Tony’s wife Carmela, presided.
White Jeep Grand Cherokee parked in front of mansion.
Our second-to-last stop was in one of the most gorgeous neighborhoods I have ever driven through: 14 Aspen Drive in North Caldwell, the location of the Soprano family home. All exterior scenes of the Sorpano home were filmed here for six seasons, and the interior scenes for the pilot episode were shot here was well. The interior of the house was reproduced on a sound stage in Queens, NY for subsequent episodes. In 2019, the property listed at $3.4 million. The previous owners were pretty relaxed about people stopping by for an exterior photo of the home, and aside from a small sign asking people to clean up after their dogs (c’mon people, do better!), the new occupants seem equally at peace with the fame of their house. The property listing of the house even warranted a feature article in the New York Times last year.
Sign on lawn that says GROVER CLEVELAND BIRTHPLACE HISTORIC SITE.
As we drove through North Caldwell, we detoured from our pre-planned tour for a historical adventure- not five minutes from the Soprano house is the birthplace of President Grover Cleveland.
Grover Cleveland birthplace.
In 1837, Grover Cleveland was born in this stately home. Serving as the mayor of Buffalo, NY, and then the governor of New York, he was elected to the office of President twice – in 1885 and 1893. He is the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms in office. Now managed by the National Park Service and the state of New Jersey, the museum is free and open to the public (although currently closed due to the pandemic). Once it reopens, we’ll have to stop by for a visit!
View of audio display in Jeep with CLASSIC ROCK 104.3 JOURNEY on display.
On the way to our last destination, a song by the 70s rock group Journey came on the radio. It was like fate… I’ll explain below.
View of New York skyline beyond tree line.
As we drove through a residential neighborhood in Montclair, my wife came to a screeching halt atop a hill. To the right, we could see the New York skyline. Imagine having this view through your front window every day!
Exterior of Holsten's ice cream and burger shop.
Our final stop for the day: Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionary, an ice cream, candy, and sandwich shop in Montclair, NJ. It was here that the final scene of the show was filmed.
Interior of Holsten's restaurant.
As we placed our order, we chatted up the owner about his restaurant’s famous past. He seemed happy to talk about it, and pointed out the booth where Tony and his family sat for the final scene (third booth back in the center row). The lights in the rear of the restaurant were off, as the owner said he wanted to discourage people from trying to eat indoors (the restaurant has outdoor seating). He turned the lights on for me, however, and encouraged me to have my wife take my photo in the booth. It was so cool!
Paper cup beside napkin holder that says HOLSTEN'S THE LAST SUPPAH.
My wife and I took our drinks outside (she ordered an iced tea and I enjoyed a chocolate egg cream). As we sat beneath a large tent enjoying our beverages, I perked up when I heard “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey come over the speakers – it is the song that plays during the final scene of the show. The owner popped out to wish me a Happy Birthday – he had turned on the music so I could fully immerse myself in the scene!
View of New Jersey Turnpike with oil refinery on right, one of which says DRIVE SAFELY.
On the ride home, I managed to snap one last photo from the title sequence of the show. The oil storage cylinder that says DRIVE SAFELY is located along the NJ Turnpike in the town of Cateret.

For some added fun, you can watch the original title sequence on HBO’s website for The Sopranos by following this link. Try to see how many of the locations from this post you can spot in the video! You should be able to recognize six places – the answers are in the conclusion at the end!

Addendum – Previously Visited Filming Locations

Before closing this tour, I wanted to share two other filming locations that we have visited during previous trips. Some of you may remember the first one, but anyone who has read this blog over the past several years will instantly recognize the second shot!

View of Paterson Great Falls
Two years ago, we visited the Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, NJ. This 77-foot waterfall was used twice for filming scenes of the show’s first season. The first scene was when two mobsters threaten to throw a man who was behind on his loans to the bottom of the falls in the pilot episode. Several episodes later, a drug dealer, Rusty Irish, is thrown off the falls by henchmen of Tony’s uncle, Junior Soprano, after Rusty has earned Junior’s ire.
Boardwalk and Asbury Convention Center.
“Our true enemy… has yet… to reveal himself.” The setting of my most-quoted line in the show – the Asbury Park boardwalk beside Convention Hall. In season two, Tony, suffering from food poisoning, has a fever dream in which he confers with his associates (some dead, some living) about difficulties within his organization. The meeting takes place at this spot on the boardwalk during a winter day.

An Off-Roader Tour and Some Automotive Updates

Black Acura MDX driving through sandy trail.
The off-road machine is back!

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Sam about his Acura MDX SUV which he drives on trails and roads far from the beaten path. I received a lot of great feedback about that interview, and so asked Sam to give us a tour of his significantly upgraded vehicle. In the next section, Sam describes how he raised (lifted) his vehicle to increase ground clearance (really helpful for when you’re off-road), added additional lighting, new wheels, and bigger tires for handling the rough stuff.

Q: Thanks for doing this again, Sam! It looks like you’ve done some pretty significant modifications to your vehicle. Can you walk us through it?

I knew that there was going to be a limited number of aftermarket upgrades available for the MDX. But I wanted to have a racked up, lifted MDX for my adventures. I started with the OEM roof rack, then Thule crossbars & cargo boxes, DDM Tuning 5″ 48w LED flood lights mounted to the crossbars, Wilco Offroad Hitchgate Classic Center mount spare tire carrier (later sold it to a friend and bought a hitchswing instead for weight savings), and added a hitchtray & bike rack as well. 

I then later replaced my fog & daytime running lights (DRL) halogen lights for 3000k/6000k LED Switchbacks. I also rewired the DRL housing for high-beam headlight output and the high-beam housing for DRL output. I prefer this look much better, like the 2010 Acura TL’s DRL setup. Then eventually bought a 15″ 45w LED light bar from Walmart and wired that up in the rear. While installing it, my neighbor offered to sell his 50″ curved LED light bar, so I bought it, and wired that up in the front. 

Over the years, I’ve had several trials and errors with different suspension lift products that weren’t meant for the MDX. Eventually I found some spacers from Tema4x4 on Ebay, originally meant for the Honda Pilot. Since both SUVs were built on the same platform, I knew that fitment wasn’t going to be a major issue. I went with Tema4x4’s 30mm/1.2″ front strut spacers (lifts 1.2″) and 50mm/2″ rear spring spacers (lifts 3″). The installation is pretty simple with the right tools and help. The next step was to decide on the right wheels, tires, and size. 

I was lucky enough to find another MDX owner who wanted my 19″×8.5″ OEM wheels, and since he had the 18″×8″ OEM wheels I wanted, we decided to swap. I had already decided to go with the Falken Wildpeak AT3W tires. I’m currently on my 3rd set – I love their performance, price, and look so much, I’ve been recommending them to everyone. As for size, I started with 265/60/18-30.5″×10.4″, but I wanted bigger, so I went with the biggest size I thought I could fit without any heavy trimming: 275/65/18-32″×11″. This was the perfect size to fit the look and handing I wanted. However, the weight became an issue for the front struts. So I eventually compromised and found another great size that worked best for the balance, 255/70/18-32″×10″. I got to keep the height for added ground clearance without the weight and friction, and even my miles per gallon (MPG) has improved. 

Speaking of which, I had a theory of having a front lower valance (spoiler) to help separate the air to the sides for better MPGs. Without it, the air would get trapped in the undercarriage, causing more drag. Finding the right valance was tough, but I kept thinking, “Go big, or go home”, for the size. After seeing tons of Ford F250/350 trucks driving around, I realized that was the valance I wanted. So I measured the width of the lower front part of the MDX’s undercarriage and looked at its design curves for mounting, then I found one meant for a 2011 Ford F250/350 and ordered it. Once it came, I did some test fitting and it was just perfect, so drilled a few holes and used some plastic screw taps to hold in place. After driving a few hundred miles, it appears to have gained me about 1-2 highway MPGs overall–or maybe I’m just driving less crazy!

Black Acura MDX parked in front of camping tent.
Thanks again, Sam, for taking the time to share some more about your unique Acura SUV. Stay safe on those dirt roads!

An Accord Update

Vehicle inspection report with all sections reported as green (CHECKED AND OK AT THIS TIME)
I recently took my Accord back to Burns Honda to have its transmission checked, as it was shifting oddly at times. My service advisor reported that there were no error codes stored in the computer, and the car performed flawlessly during two test drives. The advisor thinks that perhaps a pressure switch in the transmission is slowly failing, but he said to wait until it gets more noticeable and bring the car back. Fortunately, the switch is located on the outside of the transmission, so it’s pretty easy (and affordable) to swap in a replacement. I can live with that!
Car odometer reading 158000 TRIP A 266.2
I predicted that my Accord would cross 158,000 miles by the end of the summer, and my prediction was correct. The next major threshold is 160,000 miles… onward!

We arrived home at the end of the afternoon, and I was thrilled with my Sopranos Scavenger Hunt! It was an amazing birthday gift, and I still find myself smiling when I think about the places we saw and the experiences we had. It made for a truly memorable birthday.

And now, the answers to the video quiz above! You should be able to see: (1) the NJ Turnpike (2) the “Drive Safely” oil container (3) the Pulaski Skyway – look for the signs for US Route 1-9 (4) the Muffler Man (5) Pizza Land (6) the house at 14 Aspen Drive.

Thanks for coming along on this special birthday journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

 

 

14 thoughts on “Woke Up This Morning.

  1. First, happy birthday! Your wife is always so thoughtful with her birthday gifts. This was really cool. I’ve never watched the Sopranos but I do know if the final scene with the Journey song. It looks like it was a fun day. Also, without my commute you are slowly catching up to my accord mileage! I’m at about 175,000.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow what a gift!!!! Your pronunciation is the English vs Italian way. My mother’s relatives spoke the Italian pronunciation! Reminds me of my childhood! I need to watch the show again!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy Birthday!

    As some others have said, I don’t have any background with The Sopranos. I always enjoy reading about your adventures though. What a neat experience. So much better than anything bought online or from a store.

    Nice to delve deeper into Sam’s MDX. I like that he has been able to customize things so they work for him. It’s not like there’s much of an aftermarket for MDX lifts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree – it was a really unique gift! Glad you enjoyed it, even if you haven’t seen the show.

      I’ve had fun doing the write-up of Sam’s MDX. It’s really cool to see the places he’s taken it, and the mods he’s done to make it into a car that fits his off-road lifestyle.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  4. Great write-up and happy belated birthday! Same as Tyson, I’ve never seen an episode of the Sopranos, but this post gives me motivation to start watching. I could sure use a “Super Sub” right now even in the morning. Great progress on the Accord and love the MDX’s feature. Keep up the great blogging. You’re doing much better than me. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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